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In situ architecture, function, and evolution of a contractile injection system

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Science  18 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6352, pp. 713-717
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan7904

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Identification of a new injection system

To interact with other cells, bacteria use contractile machines that function similarly to membrane-puncturing bacteriophages. The so-called type 6 secretion system (T6SS) functions from inside a bacterial cell. Böck et al. used modern electron microscopy methods and functional assays to resolve the structure and function of a T6SS in the cellular context. They identified three modules and showed large-scale structural changes upon firing. T6SSs are organized in multibarrel gun-like arrays and may contribute to the survival of bacteria inside their host.

Science, this issue p. 713

Abstract

Contractile injection systems mediate bacterial cell-cell interactions by a bacteriophage tail–like structure. In contrast to extracellular systems, the type 6 secretion system (T6SS) is defined by intracellular localization and attachment to the cytoplasmic membrane. Here we used cryo-focused ion beam milling, electron cryotomography, and functional assays to study a T6SS in Amoebophilus asiaticus. The in situ architecture revealed three modules, including a contractile sheath-tube, a baseplate, and an anchor. All modules showed conformational changes upon firing. Lateral baseplate interactions coordinated T6SSs in hexagonal arrays. The system mediated interactions with host membranes and may participate in phagosome escape. Evolutionary sequence analyses predicted that T6SSs are more widespread than previously thought. Our insights form the basis for understanding T6SS key concepts and exploring T6SS diversity.

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